PLAYING POLO & THE POWER OF BEING PRESENT
Have you ever been in a situation that for just a moment, you were simply just there, in that moment? Thoughts of the past or the future, good or bad were absent? It doesn’t happen often, but when it does it can be powerful. Many call it being in the present moment, and while it can sound cliche, the present is really all we have. The past is the past and always will be. The future hasn’t happened. So it is useless to worry about either one.
It’s a topic my friends and I discuss often, and I attempt to practice the art of staying in the moment when I can, but I have to admit, it’s never easy. If you are like me, you find yourself replaying situations of the past in your head over and over again. They are like old recordings. Don’t you notice, they never change? They say the same thing over and over. And if you’re not replaying the past, likely you are focused on the future and dreaming of what it will be like when and if something happens in your life. For example, when you get that new job, or a girlfriend/boyfriend, or lose 10 pounds. Problem is, focusing on the future or the past does not allow us to see the beauty of what’s right in front of us.
Recently, I’ve been reminded of the simple lesson of staying present while learning the game of Polo. It’s a game where players ride horses and attempt to get a polo ball into a goal with a stick called a mallet. Actor Sylvester Stallone once described the game like this: “Trying to play polo is like playing golf during an earthquake.” Not only do players ride a thousand pound creature while seated in a tiny little saddle, we also have the mallet in one hand and the reigns in the other. In addition, we are expected to be able to hit the polo ball all while the horse is moving, and often quickly. Oh, and don’t mind the other horses and players who can legally bump you out of the way at any minute.
It has been a challenge these last eight months learning the incredibly dangerous sport, including a nasty spill on the first day, but I would not trade what I’ve learned, nor what the game and those who play it, have revealed to me.
SAY HELLO and LISTEN
Before I get on the horse each time, I look into the horse’s eyes and say hello. I check in. It’s good to have that initial connection before jumping in the saddle. Is the horse calm? hyper? annoyed? You don’t just jump on blindly not knowing what you are about to get. You have to stop and listen, and adjust to the moment. Once you know the situation, your judgment on how to move next is more clear. It’s like in life, we often run so quickly to get things done or items marked off our lists, we forget to listen and look around. We pass co-workers in the halls never really listening to what they may be dealing with, or we jump into a relationship with someone without looking at why we have chosen to spend time with that person. We slip into the saddle blindly and in some cases, it’s why I believe relationships often fail. The simple connection of listening and communicating was never established in the first place.
GET IN A RHYTHM and LET GO
Now I’m on the horse and starting to move. Like life, we’ve committed to a project or a life time goal or to a person. It’s time to assess what that feels like. I’ve been taught by my instructors to always walk the horse at first. Get a feel for the temperament that day. Once I feel good, I move the horse into a trot or a canter. Both myself and the horse listening to each other and beginning to ultimately find our rhythm together. We circle the arena, and I begin to check in with myself. Is my grip too tight on the reigns? Can I loosen up a little? Can I relax my body? Life sometimes forces us to hold on tight and form a grip so aggressive that we never let ourselves or our loved ones breathe. Can you find places in your life where you can loosen up that grip- Maybe your control of a situation or a belief? Can you relax even if just for a moment? The more you attempt it and are aware of it, believe me, it gets easier. It takes time and practice to get good, just like my polo lessons.
Sometimes the horse, just like life, throws us for a loop. It doesn’t turn in the direction we crave, or worse, stops when we don’t expect the jolt out of no where. When this happens, I’ve learned, you have to be flexible, and instead of immediately reacting with anger or frustration, take a moment to look at what you may be telling life or in my lesson, what incorrect signals I may be giving the horse. I now know to sit in the saddle, and go over what I’ve learned. Again, am I holding on too tightly, or too loosely? Am I balanced in the saddle enough to be flexible when the horse or life shifts? And super important here, am I looking in the direction that I want the horse to go? I often have a vision in my life of where I want it to go or look like, but sometimes I find myself staring in the opposite direction or focused too much on one thing. For you in your life, it may be making more money, or a relationship, or better health. In polo, new players like me often get too focused on the ball and not the movement of the group. When you do that, you slow down the game and it can get very dangerous. Now on the horse, which is also working in my life, I have found a simple trick to keep my head up and look around with soft eyes. That way I see when another horse and player may be approaching from the side or rear. I can also understand and see that I am just a part of the equation. Life and the game of polo are a moving body of parts that have to work together and listen to succeed.
SAY THANK YOU
In polo, we play chukkers, which are like quarters in a football game. They are shorter, typically seven minutes. When the chukkers are over, we thank each player with a handshake. It’s just what you do in polo, and I’ve come to like that part because we are acknowledging one another for our hard work, dedication, and focus. How often do we do that in life with friends, co-workers and even ourselves? In the end, I dismount the horse, sweaty, tired and happy. My favorite part is to acknowledge the horse that I just rode. I always give them a big tap and say “good job” and “thank you.” I truly believe the horses also love the game and know when we acknowledge them for their participation. My goal is to continue to say thank you more often in my life to anyone and everyone who crosses my path, no matter whether I find the ride rocky or super smooth.